Philadelphia Metropolis

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Change Comes to North Philly

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By  Victoria Trower

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Philadelphians hate change and will complain about anything and everything that wasn't "how it yoosta be," while simultaneously enjoying (secretly) the benefits of the metamorphosing into the next phase of its existence. I am one of those people who take it the extreme. I'm pretty sure my therapist would tell me that it's a physical manifestation of my inability to deal with emotional transitions, thereby prohibiting me from reaching the outermost branches of the Jungian tree of self-actualization. Or something like that.

It started with Temple University's never-ending need to acquire more space, and the re-gentrification of the neighborhoods I grew up in. It was already happening as a child, but when my mother passed away, it suddenly mattered to me that the abandoned house -- its bones exposed but still strong -- on the corner of Broad and Westmoreland was turned into a mini plaza. Did we really need another Rite-Aid? I admit Subway was a good idea, but the Pretzel Factory and a GNC? In the hood? I had grown up right around the corner on Sydenham Street, and when we would walk that way to get to Temple Pizza on Broad and Venango (my favorite pizza place and the best cheesesteaks), it was tradition to make up stories about the ghosts that resided in the creepy brown building ready to suck the life out of trespassers.

Then there was the closing of the seafood haven Mama Rosas, where we would we find crabs seasoned to such perfection, it didn't matter if your heart began pounding in your ears with each finger-licking smack. After that, was Zion Baptist Church at Broad and Venango, which had one of the best flea markets in the area on its parking lot across the street from the church. Dressed in her signature Keds, garden hat and green smock, my grandmother and I would spend all day Saturday visiting the different tables and finding little gems, all the while gossiping with our neighbors as church folk are wont to do.

My honorary grandmother, Granma Margret, lived right across the street from us on the 3300 side and, along with my aunts, uncles and mother, would spend hours playing pinochle while the kids ran the length of the street. I had such fond memories of summer times, the adults giving us kids money to go to Mac's corner store and getting penny candies, Pepsi, and Salem Lights 100s for the grown-ups. That was when Pepsi came in a glass bottle and kids could buy cigarettes with a note from an elder. We'd all congregate on someone's steps polishing off Jax's or Bachman's Red Hot Chips ­­-- always chased down a Hug or Clearly Canadian -- getting ready to play our daily game of hide and go seek or whatever crazy stuff we came up with.

Mac sold the place a few weeks after my mother's death. There was an immense and dreadful feeling that it was happening: Life was still moving forward, changing, without my mother, and without my permission.

But nothing was more revered in our household than Temple's Pizza, now a City View shop; a place that had seen our faces at least three times a month for more than 18 years, during birthdays, holidays, and where Mr. Z knew everybody's name and when their children were graduating and always hired the teenagers in the summer. They knew our orders like the back of their hands (for me, a cheesesteak with mayo, pickles, hots, mustard, ketchup and no onions followed by fries with pepper ketchup and hot sauce chased down with a Hawaiian Punch). Temple's held us down for every Olympics, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards; through the blizzard of '93 to the heat wave of '98. We ate there so much that even when we moved out of the delivery zone, Mr. Z sent a driver anyway, always appreciated with a huge tip. 

But change is good. The University is creating more jobs, the neighborhoods look cleaner, and Philadelphia is starting to look how it "yoosta" when my grandparents were living and complained about the changes of their city. Not just little sections, but major sections are being revitalized and made whole again. Hopefully North Philly will become diverse and prosperous and future generation will make new memories.

The changing landscape of my hood made me realize life with its sweet shortness and transitions is beautiful. As bittersweet as it is to let go of the past, I've come to the conclusion that it is much better to have been a part of those places where my happiest memories run free than to never have been a part of it at all. And if anything, I've learned to make those same kinds of memories with my children.  Change, as it turns out, isn't so bad after all.

 

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